If You Were Stranded on a Desert Island…

If you were stranded on a desert island and could have one complete run of a pulp magazine to help you while away the hours, which one would it be?  For those of you who are anal retentive, assume that food, water, and shelter are not an issue.

Oh, and you’re alone.  I don’t want to know what type of harem you would have on a desert island.  That’s a different blog post on a different blog written by a different blogger.  The thought of what some of you people might come up with on that one frankly scares me.

For the purposes of this thought experiment, any pulp that survived after the early 1950s (I’m thinking Astounding here) when the pulp market collapsed can only be included up through 1953.  Any magazine that started in the 1950s (F&SF, Galaxy, etc.) is outside the bounds of consideration.  Here are my top ten choices:

Weird_Tales_October_1934Weird Tales.  Duh.  This one is a no-brainer.  In addition to Howard, Lovecraft, and Smith, there were a huge number of excellent authors.  C. L. Moore.  Seabury Quinn.  Henry S. Whitehead.  Nictzin Dyhalis.  Henry Kuttner.  Frank Belknap Long. Ray Bradbury.  Edmond Hamilton.  Jack Williamson.  Robert Bloch.  Every pulp published a certain amount of crap, but some of the best American fantastic literature came out of Weird Tales.  It’s pretty much my top choice any time a discussion involving pulp rankings comes up.

Adventure.  This would have to be my second choice.  Harold Lamb.  Rafael Sabatini.  H. Beford-Jones.  Talbot Mundy.  The quality was consistently high.  It was the top historical fiction pulp.  No periodical since then (IMO) has even come close to matching it.  Adventure had a huge influence on Robert E. Howard, and having read some of the authors it published, it’s easy to understand why.adventure_19230820

Those are my top two.  Everything that follows is subject to change in order of preference depending on my mood, what I happen to be reading at any given time, or the phase of the Moon.  Therefore the remaining items will be listed alphabetically.  I’ve read many of the stories published in the titles that follow, although there are a couple of them I’ve heard about but have read little or none of.  They’re on the list because I’d like to read them at some point.

Astounding.  Call me a dinosaur, but I still think the first decade of Campbell’s editorship of Astounding is one of the high water marks of science fiction.  A. E. van Vogt, Robert Heinlein, Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, Isaac Asimov, Fritz Leiber.  Jack Williamson.  Fredric Brown.  L. Sprague de Camp.  So many authors who went on to become giants in the field of science fiction did some of their most important work in Astounding.  There was some good science fiction published in the magazine before Campbell took over that is also still readable, but Campbell’s influence has eclipsed much of that work.

Black Mask.  This one almost made the number three spot permanently.  I mean Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain alone made such an impact on American letters that all the contributions of all the other authors have been eclipses.  Carroll John Daly, Raoul Whitfield, Erle Stanley Gardner, Frederick Nebel.  Need I say more?

Dime Detective.  After the glory days of the 1930s, Black Mask went into something of a decline.  Hammett had quit writing and Chandler moved on to write novels and screenplays.  Dime Detective managed to lure many of the top detective and crime authors away from Black Mask.  It was arguably the top detective pulp of the 1940s.

jungle_stories_1943winJungle Stories.  This is the only pulp on the list that I’ve never read, nor have I read anything from it in any anthology (as far as I know).  Ki-Gor is generally regarded to be the best Tarzan imitator, and some would say the only one worth reading.  I know Howard Andrew Jones has a high regard for this pulp, which automatically puts it on my radar.  And it had some fantastic covers.  What can I say?  I’m a sucker for leopard skin bikinis.

Planet Stories.  Leigh Brackett.  ‘Nuff said.

Strange Tales.  A minor league Weird Tales, this pulp published many of the same authors.  This is one I’ve only read a little of but would like to read more.

Thrilling Wonder.  This pulp was arguably one of the best science fiction pulps of the late 1940s.  It tended to have a great deal of lighter, more humorous fiction than Astounding.  Plus, a lot of the stories that went into Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles were published here.

Uknown/Uknown Worlds.  This is probably the only pulp that gave Weird Tales any real competition, and even that is arguable.  Edited by John Campbell, a number of now classic stories by Fritz Leiber, Lester Del Rey, Alfred Bester, L. Ron Hubbard, L. Sprague de Camp, and Henry Kuttner appeared here.  The tone was lighter and the fare snarkier than what WT was publishing.  Unfortunately, paper shortages in WWII killed this pulp, and it was never revived after the war.unknown_194004

Honorable Mentions:  Doc Savage and The Shadow.  I’ve never read either of these, although I am familiar with the characters, at least to some degree.  I’ve listened to quite a few of The Shadow radio programs.  The Hero Pulps are an area of the pulps I’ve read a little about but haven’t tried to collect.  I’m not exactly made of money, and they don’t come cheap.  Fortunately there are some inexpensive reprints available, and I intend to one day read a few.

So, those are my top ten pulps I’d want if I were stranded on a desert island.  Which pulps would you choose?  Respond in the comments.  Go.

24 thoughts on “If You Were Stranded on a Desert Island…

    1. Keith West Post author

      That was supposed to be Strange Tales, not Strange Stories. I fixed it in the post, although Strange Stories wouldn’t be a bad pulp to have.

      Hugh B. Cave published some of his early works that were collected in Murgunstrum from Karl Wagner’s Carcosa Press in Strange Tales. Of course, Cave also published in Weird Tales as well.

      That replica issue is a fine one. I read “Wolves of Darkness” in high school or early college and enjoyed it. I don’t recall much about it now. I should probably give it a reread.

      And I heartily recommend tracking down a copy of Rivals of Weird Tales. I’ve got a copy, and I think it was where I read “Wolves of Darkness”. That was [mumble, mumble] years ago, so the memory is a bit faded.

  1. Paul McNamee

    I thought you’d made a mistake but then I Googled and found Strange Stories existed, too.

    “Wolves of Darkness” starts off like a werewolf story at an isolated Texas ranch. We soon learn the force controlling the animals is alien and the animals are dead. Soon enough, people, horses and everything else get killed and gruesomely animated as the hero plots his escape.

    I first read the story via Great Tales of Classic Science Fiction – a “scifi” hardcover that is really scifi-horror stories. It also includes “Who Goes There?” (Campbell) and “Shadow Out of Time” (Lovecraft.)

    1. Keith West Post author

      Yes. I remember now. I had originally thought it was an earlier, shorter version of Darker Than You Think. Nope. Two entirely different stories.

      1. Paul McNamee

        Ha! I had the same confusion, too. Just last month I went hunting for the short story of “Darker Than You Think” – rare as hen’s teeth right now. I hope it shows up in a replica. Apparently it’s only available in the original UNKNOWN issue or in one of the out-of-print Haffner books (Gateway to Paradise.)

        The novel got the ebook treatment, finally. I grabbed that.

        1. Keith West Post author

          I have quite a few copies of UNKNOWN, so I might have that issue. If not, I have all of Haffner’s Williamson volumes. Not that I’ve read all of them. I may have to snag the ebook version of the novel for a reread.

    1. Keith West Post author

      If they have two, give me a holler. I might want you grab me one if the price is right. Girasol has stopped doing the reproductions,so those are probably going to be collectible soon.

        1. Keith West Post author

          Sirius/XM Satellite Radio has a station dedicated to old-time radio shows. They play THE SHADOW on pretty heavy rotation.

      1. John Bullard

        No, The Shadow pulps are not like the radio plays. For 1 thing, the Shadow and Lamont Cranston are 2 separate people, with the Shadow using Cranston’s identity to have access to police, high society, etc. Also, he doesn’t have “the power to cloud men’s minds”–he just dresses in black and hangs out in the dark shadows eavesdropping. Finally, Margo Lane first appeared on the radio show, and was only later added in to the Shadow’s cast of agents. When they decided to do the radio show, they simplified the concept and cast from the pulp which had been running for several years. My friend, Anthony Tollin, who is reprinting The Shadow pulps and knew the writer, Walter Gibson, describes the pulps as the Shadow runs a huge spy ring of operatives who gather intelligence on criminals/supervillains for the Shadow, and he is usually rescuing the operatives from danger, or escaping from some death trap the villains set for him. With over 200+ stories that Gibson wrote, with additions from other writers, you run the gamut of story types.

        You may also want to check out the other version of the Shadow–the Spider. That is one extremely wacky, high thrills, the very meaning of pulp-get your money’s worth entertainment. The Spider, Richard Wentworth, is an ex-WWI soldier, who comes back and decides to fight crime as “the Spider”!!! He kills anyone that is even thinking about being bad without a moment’s hesitation, and the villains he faced were the very epitome of crazy comic supervillains. As the series is taken over by Norvell Page from the 3rd issue on, who wrote the most, and the greatest of the stories, the Spider dons a disguise of cape, slouch hat, fright wig, hunchback, and vampire teeth with 2 .45 caliber semi-autos to go out and meet justice.

        1. Keith West Post author

          Thanks for the info,John. I had read something to that affect about ten years ago but wasn’t sure how well I was remembering.

          Baen published (I think) two collections of The Spider back about seven or eight years ago. IIRC each volume contained three Spider “novels”. I have at least one somewhere but haven’t read any of the stories yet.

          1. John Bullard

            You might be thinking of the Carroll and Graff paperback reprints from the late 80’s/early 90’s, that put 2 stories in each paperback of The Spider. They did 8 books.

            If you check on Amazon/Radio Archives, they give a free reprint of the complete e-pub of the Spider pulp “Prince of the Red Looters”– The Spider vs. the supervillain, The Fly. Plus the rest of the pulp issue contents. A nice way to check out the e-pubs that Radio Archives is doing.

            I would have a serous nervous break-down choosing between “Weird Tales” and “Doc Savage” for my island reading.

          2. Keith West Post author

            No, I was vaguely aware of the Carroll and Graff reprints but what I’m thinking about were trade paperbacks from Baen. I’ll look for the C&G reprints. And thanks for the tip on the Radio Archives stuff. Definitely need to check them out. And this is just a thought exercise, so nervous breakdowns allowed.

  2. Carrington Dixon

    1. Astounding — my all time favorite pulp.
    2. Adventure – Harold Lamb, Talbot Mundy, etc.
    3. Weird Tales – Howard, Lovecraft, Smith …
    4. Unknown (Worlds)
    5. Startling Stories – somehow I’ve always preferred Startlingto her sister magazine Thrilling Wonder
    6. Planet Stories – Eric John Stark!
    7. The Shadow
    8. Doc Savage
    9. Thrilling Wonder Stories
    10. There are certainly stories from Argosy and All Story that I’ve enjoyed. I don’t know how much I’d like a steady diet of them though.

    1. Keith West Post author

      Thanks, Carrington. That’s a great list. I thought about including Startling and Argosy. Another pulp I considered was Blue Book. I was a general fiction pulp that published a bit of sff. I think Nelson S. Bond published there regularly. I’m not at home or I would check.

  3. Howard Andrew Jones

    Adventure is a pretty safe bet, depending upon the era. It’s not solid gold excellence all the time, but in its heyday you probably would be pretty entertained by any random issue. Jungle Stories is far more hit and miss. It’s either startlingly fun for outrageous purple action or flat-out terrible, or sort of dull. It didn’t seem to have any other gears.

    I’ve been a little disappointed with Planet Stories apart from Leigh Brackett, but there are a couple of other authors who published there and are well known whose work I haven’t read.

  4. Howard Andrew Jones

    …I meant to say that you wouldn’t want to read a complete run of Jungle Stories, because even the really good Ki-Gor’s tend to be repetitious. I’d grab Adventure for the sheer variety, and, in an ideal world, grab a “best of Jungle Stories.” Such a volume doesn’t exist, alas. We’re actually lucky that Altus Press is recollecting them all, with about 5-6 Ki-Gor tales per volume.

    1. Keith West Post author

      The Best of Jungle Stories…hmm. Now that your Harold Lamb project seems to be complete…

      I’ll combine responses to two comments in one since I am away from my computer and responding on my phone. Regarding Planet Stories, Brackett edited a Best of Planet Stories in the 70s. I think it was supposed to be a series, but it only ran to one volume. Have you read it? Brackett did a good job of selecting the contents.

  5. Howard Andrew Jones

    Hey Keith — I have it, and the fact I can’t recall whether I gave up halfway or pushed on through the whole thing should clue you in. Nothing in there was as good as Brackett. I mean, little is, but I was thinking it might be like Adventure. What I mean by that is that Adventure had a handful of consistently excellent authors, but it also had some lesser known writers who could occasionally produce a gem that’s never been heard of.

    From what I’ve read of Planet Stories, including in that “best of” volume and some other reprint stories that are supposed to be pretty good, Brackett just towers over the rest of them. I’ve probably missed some, but I’m not that hopeful.


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